Today marks the fourth anniversary of my “Silva Linings Playbook” column. To celebrate this anniversary, I will revisit the state of the Black Athlete, the subject of my very first column.
Four years ago, I heavily criticized Black athletes for not speaking out on issues that affected the Black community. Today, no longer are Black athletes sitting on the sidelines just collecting a paycheck while young Black men are being targeted by the powers that be. Beginning with Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem at the start of the 2016 NFL season, Black athletes such as Michael Bennett, LeBron James, Malcolm Jenkins and Eric Reid have spoken up against racial injustice and give their support to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Not since Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War over 50 years ago has a Black athlete been both ostracized and blackballed by the media and the powers that be. The reason for his refusal to stand for the anthem was eloquently system by Kaepernick in August of 2016. Kaepernick wanted to shed light on the growing injustices against Black people in America, especially young Black men that continue to be unjustly murdered by the police. As he put it, he wanted to “use his voice to speak for the voiceless.” What followed were conservative politicians and members of the media criticizing Kaepernick non stop.
During the midst of his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump suggested that if Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem, he “should try another country.” Kaepernick’s response? “He always says make America great again. Well America has never been great for people of color. That’s something that needs to be addressed. Let’s make America great for the first time.” As we all know, Trump went on to win the presidency and since winning, he has upped his bigotry and ignorance. He ripped NBA star Stephen Curry for refusing the customary tradition of the NBA champions to visit the President at the White House. To save face, Trump rescinded his invitation to the Golden State Warriors. The fact remains, Curry and his Warriors had no intention of visiting.
Kaepernick‘s political stance has been the catalyst for several athletes, both Black and White, to speak out against racial injustice, including the biggest American sports star today, LeBron James. James has consistently used his superstar status to call Trump on the carpet for the way he attempts to divide the country and scapegoat immigrants and people of color. Laura Ingraham of The Fox News Channel, an ultra conservative and champion of everything Trump, used her show on the network to tell James to “just shut up and dribble.” New York’s sports radio station WFAN two most widely listened two shows had the host of both shows, Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa blasted Kaepernick‘s refusal to stand for the anthem. Boomer called Kaepernick’s actions “unpatriotic and a slap in the face to the men and women serving in our military.” Francesa felt that NFL teams shouldn’t sign Kaepernick because he “wasn’t worth the headache.” None of the aforementioned members of the media understand the everyday struggle of being oppressed and/or being discriminated because of the color of their skins. Yet, that is no excuse. The last two years, two of the most prominent coaches in NBA history who happen to be White, Steve Kerr and Greg Popovich, have supported political protests by athletes of color. Kerr is the coach of the Golden State Warriors and he supported not visiting the White House and Trump. He was extremely critical of Trump last fall when Trump called any NFL players who refused to stand for the anthem “sons of bitches.” Kerr’s response? “He used the words ‘sons of (expletive)’ to talk about NFL players who have made it clear they’re protesting racial inequality and police brutality,” Kerr said. “Those are sons of (expletive)? Really? You’re the President of the United States and you’re going to call them sons of (expletive)? And you’re going to call (Colin) Kaepernick out for non-violent protests, a staple of American democracy? That’s really hard to deal with.”
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a middle age White man who served in the military, is the most poignant in his comments regarding Trump and his divisiveness,”Obviously, race is the elephant in the room and we all understand that. Unless it is talked about constantly, it’s not going to get better. ‘Oh, they’re talking about that again. They pulled the race card again. Why do we have to talk about that?’ Well, because it’s uncomfortable. There has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change, whether it’s the LGBT movement, or women’s suffrage, race, it doesn’t matter. People have to be made to feel uncomfortable, and especially white people, because we’re comfortable. We still have no clue what being born white means. And if you read some of the recent literature, you realize there really is no such thing as whiteness. We kind of made it up. That’s not my original thought, but it’s true.” What is also true is that Trump, who’s quick to verbally assault any prominent persons of color, has never responded to the criticisms and concerns raised by Kerr and Popovich. He has always been a racist coward. Google “Trump and The Central Park Five” and see for yourself.
Since becoming a free agent at the end of the 2016 season, Kaepernick has yet to be signed by a NFL team despite the fact that he has been an all star and led a team to the Super Bowl. He is only 30 years old and considerably better than the majority of quarterbacks in the NFL. He has been unofficially blackballed. Despite the inability to ply his God given talent, Kaepernick remains steadfast and strong. He has donated over one million dollars to charities that are invested in helping the oppressed. Prominent Black athletes such as Curry, Kevin Durant and Serena Williams have donated over $10,000 each to those same charities. Last week, Kaepernick was awarded Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award, an award given to him for his public protest against social and racial injustice. Despite losing millions of dollars in endorsement and NFL deals, Kaepernick has made a monumental difference for Blacks in America. He has continued the struggle against injustice in the tradition of Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson,Muhammad ALI, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. There is no athlete I admire more in sports today. In the long run, the truth will win out.